28 September 2010

Bobbing in the Tongan ocean

Unedited colours of beach and water
After a year of living in the Pacific, we finally felt like we were on a Pacific island. You know, the kind drenched with hot colour, a palm tree lazily arching out over immaculate white sands, clear water like an aquarium flitting about with vibrant, multi-coloured fish.

We were in Vava'u, on the tiny island of 'Ofu. Tonga is composed of five main island groups:
Starting impossibly far North as to almost become Samoa are the Niuas, two tiny islands that make remote Tonga seem like a hub of connections. Traveling South, you see Vava'u, an umbrella-shaped group of islands that were so treasured of old that knowledge of them was actively hidden from European explorers. In the middle lies Ha'apai, where we did our first three months of training in Tonga, and then finally, at the farthest south lies Tongatapu and 'Eua, where we live now and where we used to live, respectively.

The snazzy new ferry boat, leaving dock in Ha'apai
Last week, we took a trip up to Vava'u on the newest Tongan ferry boat, a journey of 18 hours, leaving the capital city in the evening, motoring up past Ha'apai in the early dawn light, and finally arriving in the sheltered main harbour of Vava'u at 3pm the next day. Our mission was part work, part fun: I had two trainings to run for the Vava'u branch of Tonga Development Bank (on fraud prevention and customer service), and Mark had continuing work to do with the computer lab of the Wesleyan high school in town. On top of that, we had visited Vava'u at the end of training last year, and were itching to come back and explore a little more.
Arriving at Neiafu, Vava'u

The guest house on 'Ofu: "'Ofu Backpackers"
The highlight of our week-long trip was the little island of 'Ofu. On the day we were scheduled to go out there, we took a ride out to an Eastern harbour, and climbed aboard a little 40hp motor boat, which reminded me heavily of that preferred mode of transport in the Brazilian Amazon. We sped for 15 minutes through channels dotted with islands with the owner of the little guest house where we were to stay, water made only slightly less blue by the hazy falling rain. Our colleague and friend at the education office is from the island, and graciously arranged for us to stay at her cousin's guest house, a solar-powered house at one end of the electricity-free island.

Blue starfish
After snorkeling in the shallow and fish-swarming reef in the morning the next day, we borrowed two of their kayaks and paddled out to explore the neighboring islands. Descriptions are utterly lacking here; there is just no way to explain the feeling of being out in a tiny kayak bobbing in the middle of shallow water, impossibly far out from any island and yet surrounded on all sides by minuscule islands erupting with trees and foliage.

Kayaking to uninhabited islands
Many of the islands in Vava'u are too small to be inhabited- much like the one we stopped on for a break midway through our explorations. It was roughly peanut-shaped and not even 40 feet across, surrounded by shallow reef and bordered by sand. We stopped on the smaller end of the peanut, and in the very short time we were there, watched the sand spit we stood on disappear under the rising tide.

A land spit in the middle of the ocean
When we finally paddled back, exhausted and sore-armed from fighting the current around several of the near islands, it was getting dark, sun setting over the main, largest island in Vava'u.

The keeper of the guesthouse made us a delicious Tongan meal of chicken and boiled breadfruit, and we gratefully fell to. What a day in a fantastic trip.


  1. sounds incredible! thanks for sharing.

  2. As always, great and informative article! Thanks for sharing your lives!

  3. Fantastic pictures and an excellent discription -- Made me feel like I was there with you.

    G'ma Noyes


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